Australian novelist Tsiolkas (The Slap, 2008, etc.) serves up a bracing poolside critique of Antipodean mores.
The trope of athletic contest as coming-of-age backdrop is an old one, though more seen in film than literature since the days of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Tsiolkas’ latest takes an athletically gifted young man—Danny here, Dan there, Barracuda everywhere, thanks to his habit of churning up the water and devouring his opponents—across two decades. As we find him at first, Danny, a working-class scholarship student, is on the loutish side, swimming for a school that he calls “Cunts College,” a place for the rich and privileged and not the likes of him. Only dimly self-aware, Danny flourishes under the tutelage of a Hungarian-born mentor who had coached the team "to first in every school sports meet of the last seven years.” The fact of Coach Torma’s foreignness is important, because everyone in Australia, it seems, is from someplace else, and immigration and exile underlie the Greek-descended author’s story. In time, Danny, now a grown-up Dan, will be someplace else, too, for though he is Olympic material, he fails to live up to his promise for reasons that move the story along, taking him to far-off Glasgow and into the complexities of sexuality, so torn up about events that he can't bring himself to enter the water. Dan’s struggle to resolve the too-abundant conflicts that beset him, including hinted-at legal trouble, makes us sorry to see the once-golden boy stumble and fall. Still, he finds redemption of a kind in his homeland, which remains welcoming even though Dan/Danny has only an untutored, reflexive appreciation for its moderate politics; at the end, as Tsiolkas has one accidentally wise character note, “[w]e’re lucky here, Danny, this country just sails on, impervious to the shit that the rest of the world is drowning in. Jesus, no wonder any bastard who gets on a boat wants to come here.”
A tough, unsparing, closely observed and decidedly R-rated look at the many challenges and disappointments that life brings, told against settings that American readers will find at once familiar and exotic.
An almost-forgotten massacre at the University of Texas propels an intergenerational tale marked by vivid moments of connection and disconnection, fear and courage.
Framing a story in the context of calamity—in this instance, mass murder—invites both sensationalism and sentimentality; there have been few memorable successes, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed among them. Add Crook’s latest to the plus side of the list. Its opening finds Shelly, a 4.0 student, outside on that fateful day in August 1966 when a former Marine named Charles Whitman opened fire from atop the university's tower, killing 17 people and wounding many more. Shattered by a bullet—and Crook’s account of that mayhem is both gruesome and perfectly pitched, emotionally speaking—Shelly is rescued by two cousins who are forevermore bound up in her life and she in theirs. One, Wyatt, is on the cusp of the rising new Austin of hippies and Willie Nelson; the other, Jack, is apparently more conventional. Wyatt is rebel enough to admit to not much liking chicken-fried steak; but then, neither does Shelly, and that’s not the only way their tastes will intersect, either. Wisely, Crook allows her characters to change in believable ways over the course of four decades, but the novel—with its moments of love, loss and conflict—is always pointing back to that terrible past. Crook (The Night Journal, 2006, etc.) gets the period details just right, not least the bittersweet song of the title, which was wafting from radios as Whitman was firing. And she delivers beautifully turned lines, as when, at the end of their long, bumpy ride, Shelly says to Wyatt in parting, “[d]on’t say anything I won’t be able to forget.”
Shelly reflects that “[s]he had never come anywhere near perfection, but had come close to a rightness with herself, through her losses.” So it is with this novel, which, though not quite perfect, is just right: confident and lyrical as it smartly engages terror and its aftermath.
Frank chronicles the difficult adjustments of a gay family formed by tragedy in her compelling follow-up to Crybaby Butch (2004).
As the novel opens, Matthew Greene, a self-described “normal, young, shallow queen,” is on a plane to Tel Aviv with his devastated partner, Daniel Rosen, whose twin brother, Joel, and sister-in-law, Ilana, have just been killed by a suicide bomber. It’s been four years since Matt fled the New York City whirl of drugs and casual sex to move in with the older, more sober Daniel in Northampton, Massachusetts, and both men are still slightly stunned by their opposites-attract relationship. The news that Joel and Ilana named Daniel guardian of 5-year-old Gal and baby Noam appalls her parents, devout Holocaust survivors, nor are the secular, American elder Rosens very happy about their grandchildren being raised by Matt, whom they don’t really like. But the real problems, once Gal and Noam are settled in Northampton, stem from the overwhelming grief that makes Daniel a virtual specter in his new family. He’s emotionally distant and critical of Matt’s more relaxed parenting style; their conflicts are exacerbated by the volatile Gal, understandably given to acting out in the wake of hideous loss and traumatic relocation to a new nation, culture and language. It seems quite possible the men’s relationship will not survive these stresses, which Frank explores in depth and without reassuring sentimentality. She also excels at the social backdrops for her characters’ drama, from the fraught political climate in Israel (Daniel and Matt are both left-wing proponents of the peace process) to the cozy, gossipy world of gay and lesbian life in Northampton. Daniel isn’t always very likable, but his disabling sorrow and controlling ways are believable impediments to his love for Matt and make it all the more moving to watch them work through to reconciliation.
Strong storytelling driven by emotionally complex characters: first-rate commercial fiction.
An embittered female artist plays a trick on critics that goes badly awry in Hustvedt’s latest (The Summer Without Men, 2011, etc.).
An “Editor’s Introduction” sets up the premise: After the 1995 death of her husband, art dealer Felix Lord, Harriet Burden embarked on a project she called Maskings, in which she engaged three male artists to exhibit her work as their own, to expose the art world’s sexism and to reveal “how unconscious ideas about gender, race, and celebrity influence a viewer’s understanding of a given work of art.” Readers of Hustvedt’s essay collections (Living, Thinking, Looking, 2012, etc.) will recognize the writer’s long-standing interest in questions of perception, and her searching intellect is also evident here. But as the story of Harry’s life coheres—assembled from her notebooks, various pieces of journalism, and interviews with her children, the three male artists and other art-world denizens—it’s the emotional content that seizes the reader. After a lifetime of being silenced by the powerful presences of her father and her husband, Harry seethes with rage, made no less consuming by the fact that she genuinely loved Felix; the nuanced depiction of their flawed marriage is one of the novel’s triumphs, fair to both parties and tremendously sad. As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry’s work—installations expressing her turbulence and neediness—remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities. If only art could heal Harry, who learns the risks of entrusting others with your own unfinished business when the third of her male “masks” refuses to play her endgame. She dies less than a year later (no spoiler; we learn this from the opening pages), and the book closes with a moving final vision of her art: “every one of those wild, nutty, sad things…alive with the spirit.”
Blazing indeed: not just with Harry’s fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.
Survivors and victims of a pandemic populate this quietly ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness.
In her fourth novel, Mandel (The Lola Quartet, 2012, etc.) moves away from the literary thriller form of her previous books but keeps much of the intrigue. The story concerns the before and after of a catastrophic virus called the Georgia Flu that wipes out most of the world’s population. On one side of the timeline are the survivors, mainly a traveling troupe of musicians and actors and a stationary group stuck for years in an airport. On the other is a professional actor, who dies in the opening pages while performing King Lear, his ex-wives and his oldest friend, glimpsed in flashbacks. There’s also the man—a paparazzo-turned-paramedic—who runs to the stage from the audience to try to revive him, a Samaritan role he will play again in later years. Mandel is effectively spare in her depiction of both the tough hand-to-mouth existence of a devastated world and the almost unchallenged life of the celebrity—think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. The intrigue arises when the troupe is threatened by a cult and breaks into disparate offshoots struggling toward a common haven. Woven through these little odysseys, and cunningly linking the cushy past and the perilous present, is a figure called the Prophet. Indeed, Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet while providing numerous strong moments, as when one of the last planes lands at the airport and seals its doors in self-imposed quarantine, standing for days on the tarmac as those outside try not to ponder the nightmare within. Another strand of that web is a well-traveled copy of a sci-fi graphic novel drawn by the actor’s first wife, depicting a space station seeking a new home after aliens take over Earth—a different sort of artist also pondering man’s fate and future.
Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.
What’s in a name? Identity of a kind, perhaps, but nothing like stability, and perhaps nothing like truth. So Mengestu (How to Read the Air, 2010, etc.) ponders in this elegiac, moving novel, his third.
Himself an immigrant, Mengestu is alert to the nuances of what transplantation and exile can do to the spirit. Certainly so, too, is his protagonist—or, better, one of two protagonists who just happen to share a name, for reasons that soon emerge. One narration is a sequence set in and around Uganda, perhaps in the late 1960s or early 1970s, in a post-independence Africa. (We can date it only by small clues: Rhodesia is still called that, for instance, and not Zimbabwe.) But, as in a V.S. Naipaul story, neither the country nor the time matter much in a tale about human universals, in this case the universal longing for justice and our seemingly universal inability to achieve it without becoming unjust ourselves. The narrator, riding into the place he calls “the capital,” sheds his old identity straightaway: “I gave up all the names my parents had given me.” Isaac, whom he meets on campus, is, like him, a would-be revolutionary, and in that career trajectory lies a sequence of tragedies, from ideological betrayals to acts of murder. The region splintering, their revolution disintegrating, Isaac follows the ever-shifting leader he reveres into the mouth of hell. Meanwhile, Isaac—the name now transferred, along with a passport—flees to the snowy Midwest, where he assumes the identity of an exchange student, marked by a curious proclivity for Victorian English: “I remember thinking after that first afternoon that I felt like I was talking with someone out of an old English novel,” says the caseworker, Helen, with whom he will fall in love. Neither Isaac can forget the crimes he has witnessed and committed, and the arc of justice that each seeks includes personal accountability. Redemption is another matter, but both continue the fight, whether in the scrub forest of Africa or at a greasy spoon somewhere along the Mississippi River.
Weighted with sorrow and gravitas, another superb story by Mengestu, who is among the best novelists now at work in America.
After last year’s best-selling The Husband’sSecret, Australian Moriarty brings the edginess of her less-known The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2012) to bear in this darkly comic mystery surrounding a disastrous parents' night at an elementary school fundraiser.
Thanks to strong cocktails and a lack of appetizers, Pirriwee Public’s Trivia Night turns ugly when sloshed parents in Audrey Hepburn and Elvis costumes start fights at the main entrance. To make matters worse, out on the balcony where a smaller group of parents have gathered, someone falls over the railing and dies. Was it an accident or murder? Who is the victim? And who, if anyone, is the murderer? Backtrack six months as the cast of potential victims and perps meet at kindergarten orientation and begin alliances and rivalries within the framework of domestic comedy-drama. There’s Chloe’s opinionated, strong-willed mom, Madeline, a charmingly imperfect Everywoman. Happily married to second husband Ed, Madeline is deeply hurt that her older daughter wants to move in with her ex-husband and his much younger, New-Age–y second wife; even worse, the couple’s waifish daughter, Skye, will be in Chloe’s kindergarten class. Madeline’s best friend is Celeste, mother of twins Max and Josh. It’s hard for Madeline and the other moms not to envy Celeste. She's slim, rich and beautiful, and her marriage to hedge fund manager Perry seems too perfect to be true; it is. Celeste and Madeline befriend young single mother Jane, who has moved to the coast town with her son, Ziggy, the product of a one-night stand gone horribly wrong. After sweet-natured Ziggy is accused of bullying, the parents divide into defenders and accusers. Tensions mount among the mothers' cliques and within individual marriages until they boil over on the balcony. Despite a Greek chorus of parents and faculty sharing frequently contradictory impressions, the truth remains tantalizingly difficult to sort out.
Deservedly popular Moriarty invigorates the tired social-issue formula of women’s fiction through wit, good humor, sharp insight into human nature and addictive storytelling.
Readers who found British author Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox (2011) an intellectual tour de force, but emotionally chilly, will be won over by this riveting, brilliant and emotionally rich retelling of “Snow White” set in 1950s New England.
Despite her name, Boy Novak is a 20-year-old young woman when she arrives in Flax Hill, Mass., in 1953. She has run away from New York’s Lower East Side because her abusive father, Frank, a rat catcher by trade who has refused to tell her anything about her never-present mother, has threatened to treat her like one of his rats. In Flax Hill, Boy makes actual friends, like beautiful, career-driven Mia, and begins a relationship with Arturo Whitman, a former history professor and widowed father. Now a jewelry maker, Arturo lives with his little daughter, Snow, in close proximity to his mother, intimidating social matriarch Olivia. Not sure she loves him, Boy marries Arturo (whose quiet goodness is increasingly endearing to the reader and Boy) largely because she loves Snow, a fair-haired beauty who charms everyone she meets. But when Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird, the Whitmans’ deepest secret is revealed—Arturo’s parents are actually light-skinned African-Americans passing as white. Faced with how others view the difference between the sisters and influenced by some combination of overpowering maternal protectiveness and bad postpartum depression, Boy sends 7-year-old Snow to live with Arturo’s dark-skinned sister, Clara, whom Olivia banished years ago. Growing up apart, Bird and Snow tell their versions of how Boy’s decision impacts their lives. Then a startling revelation about Boy’s own identity makes all three confront who they are individually and together.
Dense with fully realized characters, startling images, original observations and revelatory truths, this masterpiece engages the reader’s heart and mind as it captures both the complexities of racial and gender identity in the 20th century and the more intimate complexities of love in all its guises.
More balm in Gilead as Robinson (When I Was a Child I Read Books, 2012, etc.) returns to familiar ground to continue the saga ofJohn Amesand his neighbors.
Ames, Robinson’s readers will know, is a minister in the hamlet of Gilead, a quiet place in a quiet corner of a quiet Midwestern state. Deceptively quiet, we should say, for Robinson, ever the Calvinist (albeit a gentle and compassionate one), is a master at plumbing the roiling depths below calm surfaces. In this installment, she turns to the title character, Ames’ wife, who has figured mostly just in passing in Gilead (2004) and Home (2008). How, after all, did this young outsider wind up in a place so far away from the orbits of most people? What secrets does she bear? It turns out that Lila has quite a story to tell, one of abandonment, want, struggle and redemption—classic Robinson territory, in other words. Robinson provides Lila with enough back story to fuel several other books, her prose richly suggestive and poetic as she evokes a bygone time before “everyone…started getting poorer and the wind turned dirty” that merges into a more recent past that seems no less bleak, when Lila, having subsisted on cattails and pine sap, wanders into Gilead just to look at the houses and gardens: “The loneliness was bad, but it was better than anything else she could think of.” She never leaves, of course, becoming part of the landscape—and, as readers will learn, essential to the gradually unfolding story of Gilead. And in Robinson’s hands, that small town, with its heat and cicadas, its tree toads and morning dew, becomes as real as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, just as charged with meaning if a touch less ominous, Lila’s talismanic knife notwithstanding.
Fans of Robinson will wish the book were longer—and will surely look forward to the next.
A closely observed meditation on isolation and loneliness “in a world in which no social problem was addressed till it was a disaster.”
Eric is a middle-aged “small-town lawyer with no cases,” struggling with separation and lost love, when he lays eyes on a young woman in the supermarket line who's just such a disaster. Danielle is a hot mess brimming with suspicion and hostility, to say nothing of being hobbled by a bad sprain and no immediate prospects. When Eric helps her with her groceries—and then, episode by episode, with bits of her torn-up life—young Danielle responds mostly with cagey bitterness, dismissing the train wreck that is her existence with tossed-off observations like “[p]eople are complicated.” Yes, they are, and Danielle—if that is her real name, for, as she tells him, it’s “Danielle, for now”—is more complicated than most. Set against the backdrop of a howling Maine blizzard (“Storm of the Century, that’s what I heard,” says Eric. “Of course that’s what they always say”), Roorbach’s story never takes an expected or easily anticipated turn. Eric makes a project of Danielle, a project that brings some glimmer of meaning into his life. Danielle, in turn, resents being made into said project. She’s an exceedingly strange bird, but strange is better than nothing—maybe, for Danielle is harboring enough secrets to keep a National Security Agency agent busy for years. “I’m sure I lied,” she tells Eric, simply, in one typical exchange. And so she has, though she has her reasons, which we learn as Roorbach’s superbly grown-up love story unfolds.
Lyrical, reserved and sometimes unsettling—and those are the happier moments. Another expertly delivered portrait of the world from Roorbach (Life Among Giants, 2012, etc.), that poet of hopeless tangles.
Let’s suppose, as Sansom does in this long, engaging bit of speculative fiction, that the Nazis had won the war. Or, perhaps more specifically, that they had stared the British down, won concessions from Lloyd George (who had “spent the thirties idolizing Hitler, calling him Germany’s George Washington”) and effectively made the United Kingdom a satellite of the Third Reich. Winston Churchill, pressed to join the Quisling government, instead spearheads a vee-for-victory resistance movement, while German racial purity laws gradually come into effect on the streets of London, with most residents only too glad to be rid of the Jews; meanwhile, critics of the regime, such as W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, have been silenced. To judge by his name and appearance, David Fitzgerald should have no trouble in the new Britain, but his bloodline tells a different tale: “He knew that under the law he too should have worn a yellow badge, and should not be working in government service, an employment forbidden to Jews”—even half-Jews, even Irish Jews. His wife, for her part, is content at first to keep her head down and her mouth shut until the Final Solution comes to the sceptered isle. If there is hope, it will come from America, where, as one dour Brit remarks, “they love their superweapons, the Americans. Almost as bad as the Germans.” Sansom’s scenario is all too real, and it has sparked a modest controversy among it-couldn’t-happen-here readers across the water. More important than the scenario is his careful unfolding of the vast character study that fascism affords, his portraits of those who resist and those who collaborate and why. That scenario, after all, is not new; Philip K. Dick, Len Deighton and Philip Roth have explored it, too. What matters is what is done with it, and Sansom has done admirably.
A rich and densely plotted story that will make Winston Churchill buffs admire the man even more.
In Sharma’s world, as in Leo Tolstoy’s, unhappy families continue to be unhappy in different ways.
In 1978, narrator Ajay’s father emigrates from Delhi to New York to take a job as a clerk in a government agency, and a year later, his family joins him. Ajay’s mother had been an economics teacher in India and must now adjust to lower career aspirations, while Ajay’s older brother Birju experiences some academic success in middle school and qualifies to attend the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Tragically, just before Birju is about to begin at his new high school, he has an accident—he hits his head in a pool and stays unconscious underwater for three minutes, leading to severe brain damage that lasts throughout his life. This accident changes the entire dynamic for the Mishra family. First, they have to determine how to take care of Birju, and they eventually decide to buy a new home and have live-in help, a situation made more feasible when the family gets a $1 million insurance settlement. But the father becomes an alcoholic, in part owing to the new stresses brought about by Birju’s medical needs, and the mother winds up taking a job in the garment industry for minor wages. Meanwhile, Ajay begins to feel some pressure to be the academic star, something he succeeds in by graduating first in his high school class—he eventually attends Princeton, studies economics and becomes an investment banker. Along the way, he becomes enamored with Ernest Hemingway and begins to write short stories about his family life in the reportorial and flat style of the author he so admires—a style Sharma also adheres to in the writing of his novel.
A moving story of displacement and of the inevitable adjustments one must make when life circumstances change.
A Canadian writer visits her older sister, a concert pianist who's just attempted suicide, in this masterful, original investigation into love, loss and survival.
“She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other,” Yolandi Von Riesen says of her sister, Elfrieda. Toews (Irma Voth, 2011, etc.) moves between Winnipeg, Toronto, and a small town founded by Mennonite immigrants who survived Bolshevik massacres, where the intellectual, free-spirited Von Riesen family doesn’t share the elders' disapproval of “overt symbols of hope and individual signature pieces.” Yoli looks back over time, realizing that the sisters' bond is strengthened by their painful memories. The girls' father baffles neighbors by supporting Elf's creative passions and campaigning to run a library. His suicide and absence from their adulthood make him even more important to his daughters as their paths diverge. Elf travels around Europe, emptying herself into Rachmaninoff performances; Yoli writes books about a rodeo heroine, feeling aimless and failed. Elf’s husband appreciates her singular sensitivity as a performer, but this capacity for vulnerability dangerously underpins her many breakdowns and longstanding depression. Yoli’s men are transient, leaving her with two children. Toews conveys family cycles of crisis and intermittent calm through recurring events and behaviors: Elf and her father both suffer from depression; Yoli and her mother face tragedy with wry humor and absurdist behavior; and two sisters experience parallel losses. Crisp chapter endings, like staccato musical notes, anchor the plot’s pacing. Elf’s determination to end her suffering by dying takes the form of a drumbeat of requests for Yoli to help her commit suicide. Readers yearn for more time with this complex, radiant woman who fiercely loves her family but cannot love herself.
“Sadness is what holds our bones in place,” Yoli thinks. Toews deepens our understanding of the pain found in Coleridge's poetry, which is the source of the book’s title.
The lives of teenage girls are dangerous, beautiful things in Abbott’s (Dare Me, 2012, etc.) stunning seventh novel.
At Dryden High School, 16-year-old Deenie Nash and her best friends Lise Daniels and Gabby Bishop are an inseparable trio. The daughter of Tom, a popular teacher, and younger sister of hockey star Eli, Deenie radiates the typical teenage mixture of confidence and vulnerability. When Lise suffers an unexplained and violent seizure in the middle of class, no one is quite sure how to react. Until another girl and then another exhibit the same symptoms. The rumors seem to spread as fast as the mysterious affliction, which is blamed on everything from a rotten batch of vaccine to female hysteria. Abbott expertly withholds just enough information to slowly ratchet up the suspense until the reader is as breathless as Deenie at the arrival of each new text message or cryptic phone call and the school vibrates with half-formed theories and speculations. Finding herself becoming slowly more isolated with each incident, Deenie must not only sort through the infinitely complex social and emotional issues ignited by the events—she’s also dealing with her first clumsy sexual experience—but also the very real fear that something in the town is causing the fits, and it’s only a matter of time before she’s next.
Nothing should be taken at face value in this jealousy- and hormone-soaked world except that Abbott is certainly our very best guide.
An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain—with really hot sex.
It’s 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging “clerk class,” the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. Tension is high from the first paragraph, as Frances waits for the new lodgers to move in: “She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax.” The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight; when Frances and Lilian go on a picnic, “the eggs [give] up their shells as if shrugging off cumbersome coats”—just like the women. As life-and-death questions are answered, new ones come up, and until the last page, the reader will have no idea what’s going to happen.
Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.
An odd troika stumbles through the decadence of a world on the verge of collapse in Winton’s (Breath, 2008, etc.) resonant, oddly cheerful yarn.
Tom Keely is a mess. A one-time environmental activist, he’s failed at that, and spectacularly. He’s failed at marriage, at fatherhood. Now, living high up in a seedy apartment tower on the farthest edge of western Australia, he has recurrent fears of falling out the window and off the face of the Earth—small wonder, given his staggering chemical diet. Winton’s narrative opens with a king-hell hangover, Keely lying as still as he can in the growing heat of morning, contemplating a stain on the rug: “He had no idea what it was or how it got there. But the sight of it put the wind right up him.” Things don’t promise to get much better for him in that hellish tower among the “stench of strangers” until, hitherto oblivious, he discovers that a neighbor is someone he vaguely knew in his younger days, way back when things were good and promised to get better. As with Tom, the years have not been kind to Gemma Buck, once quietly attractive, now guardian to her grandson, a spooky little kid given to apocalyptic visions and to saying things such as “The birds in the world will die....All of them, the birds. They die.” If young Kai’s dreams are haunted by extinction and doom, he’s got cause: Mom’s a jailbird, dad’s a thug, and they’re hitting Gemma up hard for money she doesn’t have. Dyspeptic in a way that would please a David Lodge or Malcolm Bradbury, Tom unsteadily tries to help, finally given a mission to fill his idle, meaningless days. But is he Kai’s rescuer, or is Kai his? Sometimes brooding, always superbly well-written, Winton’s story studies family—even a family that is as postmodern and anti-nuclear as our hapless trio—both as anchor to keep the ship from drifting away and anchor to keep whomever it’s tied to submerged.
Another exquisite portrait of troubled modern life from Winton, who solidifies his reputation as one of the best writers at work in Australia—and, indeed, in English—today.